'American Idol' Doesn't Need Paula Abdul

After a weeklong standoff, executed primarily through a series of tweets, the die is finally cast: Paula Abdul is leaving American Idol after eight seasons, during which time her sunny-side disposition and kid-glove criticism defined the tone and dynamic of the ratings juggernaut. This means that the judge's table, which truthfully had gotten a little overpopulated when songwriter Kara DioGuardi joined last year, will be back down to three. DioGuardi will take Abdul's spot between Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell. Abdul and the Fox network both released statements bemoaning Abdul's loss. But is it really that much of a loss?

Clearly, the bosses at Fox don't think so, and while they've been gracious in bidding Abdul adieu, they must not have taken kindly to her very public overtures to get herself a bump in pay. Abdul's hardball tactics are nothing new in Hollywood, of course, but when you don't have the clout to pull it off, the bosses call your bluff. Abdul didn't really have clout. She had visibility, she had experience, she had fans, but she doesn't provide anything that would put her in a position to make exorbitant salary demands.

When Idol began, the show had to explain to its audience why these judges were qualified to whittle down the contestants and offer their notes week after week. For Cowell, it was his experience as an A&R man and a judge on the original Pop Idol. For Jackson, it was his years as a music producer and touring musician. For Abdul, it was her singing career. I've been in your shoes before, she would always tell the contestants. But it was never really true. Abdul's voice is among the weakest in pop-music history, and her singing career was less a result of her singing ability as it was a result of the connections she'd built in the industry as a choreographer. She's in as much a position to provide feedback as a singer as is Ashlee Simpson.

Abdul's role on Idol when it was in its infancy wasn't really the "experienced singer," it was the familiar face that would get folks to tune in, having never laid eyes on Jackson or Cowell before. Eight seasons later, Idol needs Abdul far, far less than she needs Idol, and the show won't be any worse for the wear without her on the judge's panel this year. In fact, it might even be better.

Granted, DioGuardi's first season as a judge wasn't the most auspicious of beginnings. But as any who's ever watching Idol in syndication can attest, each judge had to find his or her mojo over time. I don't doubt that DioGuardi will find hers. She'll become less wooden and more personable. And by replacing Abdul, she raises the legitimacy of the judging table as arbiters of technical skill. No one picked DioGuardi to join the judge's table because she's a recognizable celebrity who would attract new viewers. They brought her in because she's an experienced, working songwriter. Abdul's been doing the Idol thing long enough to be better at that specific skill than DioGuardi, who just started. But once the new addition gets up to speed, we may wonder what kept us attached to Abdul so long.

The only thing Idol will definitely miss by not having Abdul around is the periodic publicity bump from her erratic behavior. The trick to Idol for the producers is walking the fine line between making great television and finding great talent, and sometimes, what serves one goal detracts from the other. There's been no bigger scandal in Idol history than when season two contestant Corey Clark alleged that he and Abdul had an affair, and that she gave him tips on song selection and styling, so as to give him a leg up on his competitors. An "independent counsel" investigated Clark's stor and concluded that there was no evidence to support his claims. No details were provided about the counsel, or what if any standards they were being held to. It smelled fishy then and it still does now, as though the network assembled a sham trial to allow a star of its biggest show to stick around. That story broke in season four, and while Abdul's antics haven't caused quite that much commotion since, questions about her sobriety and lucidity are evergreen. Sometimes it seems she's more trouble than she's worth.

Sure, the show will miss her optimism in the face of mediocrity, and her loopy antics were occasionally good for a YouTube moment. But anyone can compliment an outfit, and the less spaced-out moments, the more Idol is taken seriously as a breeding ground for new pop stars. The only thing we'll really miss about Paula is…Paula. No one likes change, and not seeing a familiar face on Idol will take getting used to. But Abdul will soon learn the same lesson as Brian Dunkleman—no one is bigger than the game.